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Professor Harold Hill (left) played by Stef Tovar implores people River City form student bbefore breaking insong 'Seventy Six Trombones'

Professor Harold Hill (left), played by Stef Tovar, implores the people of River City to form a student band before breaking into the song "Seventy Six Trombones" during a rehearsal of Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" on Tuesday, January 15, 2013, at the Paramount Theater. "The Music Man" is now playing. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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‘The Music Man’

“The Music Man” runs through Feb. 3 at the Paramount Theatre at 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. For tickets and information, go to, or call the Paramount box office at 630-896-6666.

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:36AM

Johnny Rabe saw his first stage performance at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre at the age of 2.

“It was ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” he said. “I remember bits and pieces.”

And it gave him the acting bug. Since then, the 12-year-old Naperville native has taken leading roles in dozens of theater productions.

His decade-long career has taken him all the way to Broadway, where this holiday season he earned acclaim for his role as Ralphie in “A Christmas Story, The Musical.”

Rabe’s whole face lights up at the thought of Broadway lights.

“(It was) a lot of fun,” Rabe said. “It was busy, really busy. We do a lot of publicity. We did ‘The View’ and ‘Good Morning America.’ Photo shoots. Very busy, but it was so much fun.”

Rabe ate soap, donned a bunny suit and shot Red Ryder BB guns in “A Christmas Story” at New York’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre for huge crowds from Thanksgiving through New Years’. But while Broadway was great, he said he’s really excited to be making his debut at the Paramount, where he was first introduced to theater.

“I love New York, but there’s no pace like home,” Rabe said. “I miss (Broadway), but I’m glad I get to come and do a show right here.”

Rabe plays Winthrop Paroo in “The Music Man,” which opened Friday as part of the Paramount’s wildly successful Broadway series.

“He’s the librarian’s little brother,” he said. “He lisps, and he’s made fun of by the other kids in River City. His dad died, and he’s been brooding about two years. He’s made fun of, and he doesn’t really talk a lot. He’s alone all day.”

Rabe, by contrast, is a bit of a talker — something he attributes to all his time in show business. He said he gets neither nervous nor shy anymore.

“I don’t really,” Rabe said. “I love what I do. In acting, I just apply it to my real life, and I get to meet a lot of people. Once the overture starts, I get this jolt of excitement, I forget how tired I am. I forget everything else.”

The show

The overture started Friday night, kicking off a three-week run of “The Music Man.” And as always, Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti is promising bigger and better as Broadway series productions keep trying to top themselves.

Nineteen musicians — largely woodwinds — fill the pit and 40 actors crowd the stage as the rather unpleasant residents of River City, Iowa.

Rachel Rockwell — director of “Hair” and “Annie” for the Paramount’s Broadway series — has returned with her usual attention to detail that pulls audiences into the setting of the show. “The Music Man” floods the stage with rich golden tones in lighting and costumes designed to give the audience warm fuzzies that may even make them forget their general distaste for this stage Iowa.

And that sense of place is part of the genius of the show, said Corti.

“It’s about the transformative power of music on the people of the town, who are very staid and very conservative and very rigid,” Corti said. “Even though (main protagonist Harold Hill) is a con artist, the result is that he’s igniting passion in these people.”

It’s an apt story to be told on a downtown Aurora stage — which, Corti said, has been brought alive by the Broadway series and the city’s dedication to musical theater.

“From the first show, people would come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for doing this,’ ” Corti said about the series, which has topped 20,000 subscribers in its first two years. “It creates something in people’s lives that they talk about; it creates a point of reference for other excellence in their lives. It is directly changing this community, and this was part of my dream.”

Johnny Rabe’s dreams are a little less solidified. He loves the stage but wants to try out TV or movies. He likes acting but also thinks being a history professor might be fun.

Mostly, after his three-week run in “The Music Man,” the seventh-grader is looking forward to catching up on his English and Latin homework.

“We have a lot of fun, but tech week is long,” Rabe said. “But I love what I do.”

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